December 12, 2012

Concerns With AvalonBay Design Include Loss of Mature Trees, Back Yards Facing Street

To the Editor:

The AvalonBay design raises several concerns regarding public and open space:

Thirty-six mature trees and the very tall evergreen hedges along Franklin Avenue and the interior driveway will be cut down for AvalonBay’s building. Dan Dobromilsky, the Planning Board’s landscape architecture consultant, takes a strong stance, saying, “The analysis of the existing vegetation on this site has completely discounted the value of mature landscape plantings in a community or neighborhood.” The removal of such a large number of mature trees lowers our carbon sequestration and increases the heat island effect. Like the proposed building, there’s not much that’s sustainable about the proposed plantings, either, since only a third are native.

Dobromilsky’s report also alludes to another important issue that has been sublimated by the applicant’s landscape renderings: the backyards of many units will face the Franklin and Witherspoon streets. AvalonBay’s landscape design ignores the many things that are usually placed behind a house: air conditioners; storage units; garbage cans, etc. None of these common backyard items are shown on the rendered site plan. Furthermore, the spaces that the applicant has continued to call public can become instantly privatized by the installation of fences at the property lines along Franklin and Witherspoon — none of which would require permission. And, suddenly, all that “public space” is only private ….

We must not lose sight of the bigger picture. This is the largest development site that Princeton has ever offered to a private developer, and we should be ashamed. We have handed the developer our greatest allowable development in a central location, and the AvalonBay design response has been to effectively remove the public nature that the concept plan crafted.

Consider Hinds Plaza. It, too, is the front of a large apartment complex, widely enjoyed by the public in large part because the public feels welcome and has reasons to go and be there. The integration of public features (stores, shops, institutions) and the fact that roadways on three sides do not surround it leads to its success. At AvalonBay, only the residents have reason to be there now that street-level commercial activity has been removed. It’s their front yard and no more than a glorified, totted-up bus stop for the town.

Rather than using this development as an opportunity for Princeton to show how sustainable Princeton could be, we’re allowing AvalonBay to bypass meaningful sustainability other than the givens — the scale of development and its central location. That means only AvalonBay profits, and the public loses.

Holly Grace Nelson

Leigh Avenue